HL Deb 27 January 1983 vol 438 cc363-5
Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether it is intended to repeal or amend the Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979 so as to afford adequate compensation without proof of causation in all circumstances.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Lord Trefgarne)

No, my Lords.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend the Minister for that unexpected and wholly comprehensive reply, may I ask whether he would agree that if adequate compensation is not to be had, then adequate care must be provided? Is he aware of the dissatisfaction expressed on all sides of your Lordships' House with the working of this Act, having particular regard to the whooping cough injection? Is he also aware that the two decisions of the tribunals which so far have come before the courts have been quashed on judicial review?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, perhaps I may deal first with the last of my noble friend's supplementary questions. I understand that the position is that the two cases that have come before the courts have, in fact, been referred back to the tribunals in order that additional reasons or grounds may be given. So I do not think that it is correct to say, as my noble friend suggests, that the decisions have in fact been quashed. Turning to the first of my noble friend's supplementary questions, I certainly agree that it is desirable that people suffering from all types of handicap ought to have the best treatment, support and care that we can provide.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, I am sorry to press the noble Lord the Minister on this matter, but it is extremely important. I should like to ask two questions. First, does the answer which the Minister gave mean that the Government now regard the 1979 Act as a permanent measure, notwithstanding that it was introduced as a purely temporary arrangement, notwithstanding that the modest lump sum it provides for is not indexed, and notwithstanding that its actual operation is full of glaring inconsistencies according to the particular part of the country in which one happens to live? Secondly, does his Answer mean that the Government have definitely decided not to change the basis of liability for the authorities from one of fault to one of strict liability?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord's second question is, Yes. As to the first of the noble Lord's questions, we think that improvements to the system ought to be subsumed in a wider consideration of benefits available for disabled people, and we shall do that as soon as resources are available.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, would my noble friend the Minister not agree that the inadequacy of the current provisions for vaccine damaged children only underlines the urgent need for a national disability income or an allowance for extra expenses for disability on the lines of the DIG's campaign which would, of course, include all children severely handicapped from whatever cause?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right that the Government see the way forward in this matter as producing a comprehensive system for disabled people, including a simplified and modernised system of benefit for handicapped and disabled people of every kind. We shall do that, as I said in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, as soon as the resources are available.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, is there not a special case where vaccine damage has been caused as a result of the administration of vaccine following Government propaganda and urging? Will the Government not at least move to the position that where the plaintiff can show on the balance of probabilities that the injury suffered was attributable to the administration of a vaccine—on such a recommendation by Government as I have mentioned—compensation should be paid?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, of course the existing system is in place and will continue until such time as we can produce a more comprehensive system, as I have said. But as the noble and learned Lord will recall, during the recent debate on this matter, my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack made it quite clear that the prime purpose of vaccination is not a public purpose but a purpose in the interests of the child itself.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, is the noble Lord the Minister in a position to tell the House what progress has been or is being made in the development of a whooping cough vaccine which does not cause brain damage? Is not progress in that direction every bit as important as progress in the direction to which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, has drawn attention?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right to put his finger on that point. As it happens, I was myself visiting the Porton Down establishment quite recently and saw the work that is being carried out in this particular field. They have not yet reached the stage of being able to start clinical trials, but I understand that they hope to be able to do so before too long.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell me whether I am correct in stating that the liability to brain damage is just about the same from the vaccine as it is from actually getting the disease? Or am I wrong?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, no; the risks of contracting brain damage are much greater for unvaccinated children than for those who undergo that treatment.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, I should like to ask my noble friend to clarify one matter which I thought he suggested just now. The noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, made reference in her supplementary to the campaign by DIG, which is the Disablement Income Group. Are we to gather from my noble friend's reply that the Government regard with some sympathy the proposals and anxieties expressed by that group, even though at present they are constrained by lack of resources?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I sought to reply to my noble friend in a general way, saying that we saw the case for the development of a more comprehensive system of benefit for disabled and handicapped people of every kind, and I was not specifically thinking of the campaign of any particular pressure group.

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